By Dr John Sturzaker MRTPI,
Discipline Lead for Planning, University of Liverpool
As a founder member of the North West Neighbourhood Planning Network I am very supportive of Neighbourhood Planning – I think it’s a great idea and I’m keen to see more Neighbourhood Plans across the North West. However, it’s important that groups go into the process with their eyes open – producing a Neighbourhood Plan is a lot of work, and whilst that work can be worthwhile, there are some barriers which can crop up. Following the research we at the University of Liverpool did for Planning Aid England to assess the level of Neighbourhood Planning activity across the North West, I have been carrying out interviews with a number of members of Neighbourhood Forums and Neighbourhood Planning support workers to try and understand what these barriers are.
The first is that it is often harder to get going with the work of producing a Neighbourhood Plan in urban areas than it is in rural areas. There is usually no Parish or Town Council, which often have paid employees and will certainly have elected members who may have been volunteering on the Council for a number of years. Without this, a fair amount of work is needed just to get a Neighbourhood Forum in place and begin the process of producing a Plan.
The second is that, wherever you are, producing a Neighbourhood Plan is usually a long process – two or three years is not unusual. So you need stamina, and you are much more likely to succeed if you have a group of keen and willing people. If just one or two people are trying to push things through, the process can be tiring.
The third is that the level of support you can expect from your local authority will vary quite significantly. Some local authorities have been worse hit than others by “austerity” and the very significant average cuts to local authority budgets, so in some cases planning departments have seen their staff numbers drastically reduced. But the variability we found in support seems to go beyond this, with some local authority councillors seemingly opposed, in principle, to Neighbourhood Planning. We are currently doing more research to try and find out why this is.
These points are not designed to put anyone off Neighbourhood Planning – we at the University of Liverpool want to do everything we can to support communities, indeed our students work with a local community to support them in producing their Neighbourhood Plan every year. It’s my hope that through the North West Neighbourhood Planning Network we can build and share knowledge about Neighbourhood Planning to try and overcome these barriers.